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International Transgender Day of Visibility: The focus on visibility is no longer enough

4 April 2017 - Dr Anastacia Tomson, medical doctor, author and transgender rights activist, weighs in on International Transgender Day of Visbility and states that 'visbility is no longer enough'

I always have mixed feelings over International Transgender Day of Visibility, which is observed annually on 31 March. Do not get me wrong; I am a believer in visibility. I live as visible a life as I can, because I believe in the power of representation, and I believe in spreading understanding and awareness, especially where trans issues are concerned.

But I also recognise that visibility is a privilege. And that visibility does not stop the violence. Trans people continue to be shamed, threatened or hurt. We are thrown out of our homes. We lose our jobs. All too often we lose our lives.

For me to be able to stand up and say “I’m transgender, and I’m out, and that’s ok” reflects the massive chasm between different groups. My visibility can be scary to me sometimes, because it’s a form of exposure or vulnerability. But, even so, my life is probably not at risk. Because of the colour of my skin, because of the job I have, because of the area I live in. Because I have access to medical care, and because I was able to acquire legal documents that accurately reflect my identity.

None of us have a responsibility to be visible. To educate and inform everyone we encounter about trans issues is an absolutely unfair and often exhausting expectation. No one should ever be forced into being an activist – it is something that should, in an ideal world, only ever be done by choice. Cisgender people do not have to explain themselves, or answer invasive or inappropriate questions – as trans people, however, we so often do.

Of course, the sad reality is that many of us are reduced to our “stories” or our “journeys”. We are the sensationalised news headlines, the curiosities, the spectacles. We are good for entertainment or shock value, but our worth as human beings is too often entirely disregarded, acceptable only in so far as we can be objectified, fetishised, and then (often violently) disposed of.

There are many of us who wish that they could be invisible, because of the ubiquitous risks and dangers that come along with life as a trans person. The freedom to just go about your day, not fearing for life and limb? Not facing near-constant belittlement or degradation or mockery? The prospect of an ordinary, mundane, invisible life is an intoxicating dream that many of us might never even hope to experience.

Visibility is not the shortcoming here. Rather, I would suggest that as a society, we are lacking in empathy, compassion, and understanding. It is not about simply seeing trans people; instead, it is about recognising shared humanity, taking a stand against violence and discrimination, and embracing a diversity of identities and experiences with love instead of fear and hatred.

So, in honour of the 2017 International Transgender Day of Visibility, I implore you – go that step further. Visibility is no longer enough. It is time to become intolerant of intolerance, and to stand by the sides of the marginalised, instead of just being aware of their existence.

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